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Articles by: Marcello De marco

  • Art & Culture

    The Reign of Sign

    NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò is the place in New York where one can soak himself in Italian culture. What is truly remarkable about this institution is the stellar variety of topics and events hosted: from exhibitions on Gabriele d'Annunzio to conversations on Italian opera, the Casa strives to give a bird's eye view of the nearly boundless Italian intellectual panorama.

    True to this spirit, the latest event winked at the figurative arts: it is an exhibition of works of abstract painter Antonio Sanfilippo. The opening of the exhibit took place on March 28, and the exhibit will be on show until May 5.

    At the opening were present curator Isabella del Frate Rayburn and Prof. Giuseppe Appella, author of the preface of the catalogue. During the opening remarks they gave us an idea of the concepts behind Sanfilippo's work and an overview of the artist's history, pivotal for understanding his art.

    The artist was originally part of the group Forma1, among whose ranks we can find other prominent Italian artists of the time such as Piero Dorazio, Giulio Turcato, Mino Guerini and Carla Accardi (wife of Sanfilippo to whom an exhibit was dedicated at Casa Italiana a few years ago). This group, made up of Sicilian artists, had as artistic cornerstone the “shape” (forma, in Italian); they said: “when drawing a lemon, we don't care much about the lemon itself, we care about the shape of the lemon”.

    Although a group of painters from Italy, they were highly receptive to European suggestions and trends. They actually moved to Paris in 1947, where they had the opportunity to broaden their cultural horizon through the interaction with the international artistic community.

    After the French experience, each of the members of Forma1, once back in Italy, gradually drifted toward different styles.

    Sanfilippo was struck by the works of Gorky and Pollock, seen at two different exhibits in 1957 and 1958. Since then the “shape” began to lose importance in the works of the artist in favor of the mark, the sign: il segno.

    The works exposed at Casa Italiana perfectly show the appeal of the 'sign' to the artist. Sanfilippo's paintings are organic compositions based on doodles that fuse together on the canvas. The tangle of marks that is represented in the paintings is a true figurative oxymoron: somehow a unification of vacuum and matter, organized composition and total chaos, presence and absence.

    Another important contribution to the development of Sanfilippo's style came from his native Sicily. Like the Alps, with their constant rockslides and erosion, are at the base of Giacometti's statues, carved and eroded much like his mountains, the Sicilian landscape is a fundamental inspiration for Sanfilippo, Appella explained. Sicily is often an extremely barren land with solitary trees, hidden beehives, lonely stacks of dried branches that mark the landscape like signs.

    When asked why Sanfilippo still hasn't received the international attention reserved to other Italian artists of his time, Appella explained that he was a very shy, reserved and melancholic man. This was definitely not helpful when the time came to market his works. Furthermore, he died in 1980, at the beginning of a period that would have been perfect to publicize Sanfilippo's art, and he was not famous enough for his death to be a boost to his career, as sadly and often happens in the world of art.

  • Life & People

    UNA. A Bottle Worth Waiting 150 Years for

    Countless events, memorabilia, conferences and gadgets, at least in Italy, have been created to commemorate the Unification of the Country, and one of the most creative ideas comes from the wine industry: UNA.

    UNA is the name of two wines, one red and one white, created by Assoenologi (the wine producer association) and Veronafiere (the company who manages the Verona expo, where Vinitaly is held).

     From each of the twenty Italian regions, two grapes were selected, one to be used for the white, one for the red. These bottles, therefore, are produced from twenty different grapes each, symbolizing a virtual unification of Italy, and each one is numbered. Bottle number 1 was presented on Sunday 17 in New York to the President of Italy Giorgio Napolitano.

    On the morning after, March 28, a tasting session for the press was held at the Metropolitan Club, feet away from Central Park. At the session were also present the high ranks of Veronafiere, who came up with the idea.

    This wine is a complete tribute to united Italy. The use of grapes from all over Italy is just one of the symbols present in this product. The name UNA (one) is how united Italy was called at the beginning of the 19th century, when its unification was still a dream. The calligraphy used for the tag-line “Vino Bianco/Rosso d’Italia” (White/Red wine of Italy), a denomination that purposefully deprives the product of a specific geographical indication, is the calligraphy commonly used in Italy during the mid 1800s. Thy typographical font used for the notes on the bottle is Bodoni, a style designed in 1818 by Piedmont-born Giambattista Bodoni. Last but not least the design of the bottles is reminiscent of the famous still lives of Morandi.

    During the lecture some time was spent to illustrate the importance of Verona and Vinitaly for the Italian economy.

    The position of Verona itself screams for a florid economy: it is placed in the middle of Europe, is crossed by the two main North-South and East-West European highways and is serviced by superior logistic infrastructure.

    The Verona Expo was built on these solid premises.

    Managed by Veronafiere, the expo is famous mainly for the wine show Vinitaly, but is actually active in other departments as well.

    The construction industry is present with events such as Marmomacc; the alternative energy businesses have Solar Expo; and the most important equine exhibit in the world is held there. Actually, the Verona expo was born as a horse show, and built upon this bucolic vocation with the final result of becoming the host of the most important enological show in the world: Vinitaly.

    This year will be the 45th edition of the famous wine expo, and many things have changed since its beginning.

    What was originally a show targeted toward professionals of the field is now trying to reach more and more into the consumer slice of the market. “Vinitaly 4 You” is the latest initiative pushing in this direction. It is a consumer-targeted spin-off of Vinitaly held in the center of Verona, in the Gran Guardia palace.

    Another new addition to the program is the “Bollicine” (sparkling wine) department: given the increasing importance of sparkling wine in the industry (now Italy exports more sparkling wine than France), Vinitaly is now dedicating an entire section to this area.

    Vinitaly is not only about tasting the best wines on the market, it also aims to figure out the health, situation and trends of the Italian wine industry; in order to satisfy this request many surveys are commissioned every year.

    One of the most striking, this time, seems to indicate that Italians do not drink as much wine as they used to: the consumption per person seems to have declined by 50% this year. Yet another contradiction of the Bel Paese.

  • Art & Culture

    Columbia Opens its Doors to Three Italian Literary Promises

    When it comes to Italy, rivers of ink have been spilled about its qualities, but at least equally much has been written about its flaws.

    One of the main criticisms aimed at the Italian system is that it doesn’t give enough opportunities to young people.

    On March 23, at the Italian Academy of Columbia University, a conference tried to prove that, at least on some level, this situation is changing: three young and successful Italian writers presented their novels, acclaimed by both Italian critics and the public.

    Present at the event, with the three Italian talents, were Consul General of Italy Francesco Maria Talò; David Freedberg, Director of the Italian Academy; Claudio Angelini, President of the New York Dante Alighieri Society – host of the event; and Paolo Valesio, Chair of the Italian Department at Columbia. Furthermore, the discussion was moderated by Michele Rossi, Fiction Editor of the Italian publisher RCS Rizzoli and discoverer of these new stars of the Italian literary landscape.

    The opening remarks focused on the importance of young talents for the future of Italian literature, and the necessity of creating a dialogue between the old school and the new school of Italian writers. From such a dialogue there would surely spring enrichment to both classes of authors.

    Mr. Rossi, on the other hand, was more focused on the works that were presented at the conference.

    He underlined how fiction is often the process of disassembling reality into its building blocks, reconstructing such blocks into a work that is, of course, a work of fiction, but also something able to represent today’s reality in an unadulterated, crystal clear form, sometimes truer than reality itself. Through this process writers are able to present the problems of society in a very effective and incisive way.

    After the introduction, the authors were given the opportunity to read an excerpt from their works.

    Silvia Avallone, winner of the Campiello Opera Prima Prize, and finalist of the Strega Prize, was present with her book “Acciaio” [Steel], a story revolving around the steel mills of the small city of Piombino and the social situations that arise in this kind of village-sized companies, that have a very peculiar and organized internal social/political structure.

    Giuseppe Catozzella presented “Alveare” [Beehive], his work about the often ignored (more or less on purpose) problem of organized crime – specifically, ‘Ndrangheta – in Northern Italy, especially Lombardy.

    Barbara Di Gregorio read from her “Le Giostre Sono per gli Scemi” [Carousels Are for Morons], the bittersweet story of a child, later a teenager, looking for his lost brother.

    After the readings, the public had time to interact with the panelists in what turned out to be a very stimulating debate.

    Among the various topics touched, an interesting remark about Italian society came from Silvia Avallone. According to her, some of the problems of Italy stem from a generational gap of talent. The generation born at the beginning of last century (our grandparents, she colloquially defined them) was skillful and resourceful, and was able to create the economic boom after WWII. Their children, however, (our parents) somehow sit on their laurels, enjoying the wealth created by their parents but unable to improve on it. Silvia hopes and thinks that the current generation of young Italian men and women can find the spark of two generations ago and help fix at least some of the shortcomings of today’s Italy.

    Considering the topics touched in Alveare, it was no surprise that Catozzella was asked about a possible comparison with the other famous recent Italian mafia book: Gomorra. He pointed out that, of course, the topic is very similar, but while Gomorra is more of a non-fiction work, Alveare is a work of fiction, though based on true facts. Actually, he recalled a traumatic episode of his childhood that may be one of the causes that prompted him to write this book. When he was 14, he witnessed a mafia-perpetrated double homicide. Two by-passers were killed, while the targets, unharmed, were notoriously part of a rival family.

    Catozzella underlined that this kind of violent crime is much more rare in Northern Italy than in the South. The ‘Ndrangheta in the North is much more subtle and, thus, much more dangerous.

  • How Italian Food Conquered... Casa Italiana

    No matter how much we all take it for granted, it is always impressive to see how strongly Americans feel the pull of Italian cuisine.

    On March 21, finding an empty seat in the auditorium of Casa Italiana was virtually impossible. We couldn’t help but marvel at so much interest, even though it was well justified by the array of panelists who spoke at the conference: John Mariani, Marco Maccioni and Tony May.

    John Mariani, famous food critic and writer, was there to present his latest book “How Italian Food Conquered the World”. The volume explains how what originally was a poor, regional cuisine became the most appreciated and influential gastronomy in the world.

    During his speech, he focused on the New York gourmet scene and explained how Italian restaurants became the undisputed stars of this system.

    Mariani started off with a few historical notes that gave the public an idea of how some of the most common ingredients of Italian cuisine arrived to Italy: Marco Polo brought back rice from China, Columbus (who set out on his quest looking for spices, making his journey technically a food trip) imported corn, tomato, chili and potatoes.

    After a few centuries of experimenting with these new ingredients, Italian cuisine was ready to be exported back to America with the first wave of Italian immigrants, during the second half of the 19th century.

    It took a while, however, for New York to see its first pizzeria: in 1905 Lombardi’s Pizza opened for business, and never closed to this day.

    Still, for a good part of the 20th century, Italian food was not considered a world-class cuisine, but rather a greasy and cheap alternative to a hamburger.

    This was also due to the social status of Italian immigrants: poor laborers, without much refinement. It is iconic how the true Little Italy of New York today, around Arthur Ave, in the Bronx, came to be. Stonemasons were needed for the construction of the Bronx zoo; Italians answered the call, and never left.

    With time, Italians grew in power and social status, but what they became associated with was not culture or good taste; rather something much less worthy of praise, but with a far greater impact on popular culture: mafia.

    At this point, in the mid-20th century, Italian restaurants were regarded as dodgy places were you would be sure to see gangsters eating their spaghetti. Not exactly what one would associate with sophistication and glamour, so Italian restaurants still remained relegated to a gastromic subclass of highly debatable reputation.

    It is thanks to the fashion system that Italian food became what it is today. In the 1980s, in the center of Milan, there were some restaurants that became daily fixtures for fashion designers from all over the world. Among these joints: Giannino, Bagutta and, last but not least, Bice who has now several restaurants all over the States.

    The association of Italian food with the beauty, elegance, sophistication and exclusivity typical of the fashion world, eventually propelled Italian gastronomy to the stratosphere of the food scene.

    Mariani’s theories were backed by the personal stories of two of the most successful restaurateurs of New York.

    Marco Maccioni is the co-owner, together with his father Sirio and siblings, of “Le Cirque”.

    This venue opened in 1974. Back then Italian food was not yet what it is today, and the entrepreneurial ability of Marco’s father prompted him to use a French name for his restaurant, as French cuisine was the most sophisticated cuisine in the world. This anecdote is enough to show the mistrust Americans had toward Italian food.

    In spite of the name, Italian cuisine was heavily enforced at Le Cirque, always with special attention to its core value: simplicity; to let the ingredients speak for themselves.

    It is thanks to simplicity that one of the most appreciated Italian-American dishes was invented: Marco’s father went for a weekend in Nova Scotia with other couples. The deal was that each day someone would cook for the rest of the group. However, when it was Sirio’s turn he realized he did not have the ingredients to prepare what he had in mind, so he settled for a simple pasta recipe with the few leftover vegetables and condiments. As they say: a star was born.

    After Marco, Tony May took the spotlight. Tony is another extremely successful food entrepreneur. Owner of venues such as SD26, San Domenico and Palio, he is one of those who made the history of Italian gastronomy in New York.

    He remembered the tough beginnings, confirming that Italy in the kitchen was wildly unappreciated just 40 years ago.

    He did not let this stop him, and pushed forward, trying to prove that there is such thing as Italian haut cuisine, even though the press initially did not understand this. Back in the days critics thought that “authenticity [in Italian cuisine] is a high school dropout making salami in a Brooklyn basement.”

    I guess we can only say that time proved Tony right.

    The last minutes of the conference were dedicated to the public, and the discussion focused on the role of critics today, with mixed opinions. While online reviewing open to everybody was praised for giving the customer voice, it was underlined that there is no assurance that those who review a place know what they are talking about, or even ever went there. Food critics, on the other hand, know what they write about, but often are more concerned about what is hip and new than about what is actually good.

    After the conference John Mariani took some time to sign copies of his book, and was kind enough to answer our question: if he thinks that there is any other cuisine that could overthrow this “Italian domination”.

    John thinks that due to the amount of South Americans coming to the US, perhaps, in some decades, Mexican food may take Italy’s crown.

    Get ready to have tacos instead of pizza during the 2031 Superbowl.

  • Life & People

    A Chat with Salvatore Salibello

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    While sipping a beer under an enormous, white, square beach umbrella, we wonder whether the gargantuan amphoras scattered around the room are actual historical relics or skillfully crafted copies. We linger on this thought for an instant,  as our curiosity is soon captured by what is going on all around us. Distinguished gentlemen and their companions are enjoying glasses of champagne while waiting to be seated. Most of the tables are already full and the chatter, the laughter, the clinking of glasses and dishes are strong but not overpowering. The high ceiling is succeeding in its job of dissipating most of the noise, while still leaving jovial sounds in the background. On the back wall of the vast room an assortment of fresh, wide-eyed fish – shipped every morning from Greece, a waiter proudly informed us – seems to be scanning the scenery, as curious as we are about the various stories unfolding at the tables. We have arrived a bit early, and are waiting for the rest of our party of four at the bar.
     
    The wait lasts just a few minutes: Sal and Lisa arrive as agreed at 7:15 sharp, not a minute later, impeccably dressed. While waiting for our table, we chat a bit and are struck by the remarkable ability of this couple to make us feel immediately at ease. They seem incapable of snobbism or self-celebration, though, knowing their accomplishments, one instantaneously realizes they would have good reason to be otherwise, after all Sal and Lisa are Salvatore and Lisa Salibello.
     

    Salvatore "Sal" Salibello is the founder and managing partner of the accounting firm  Salibello and Broder,  @font-face {
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    His merits are recognized in Italy as well. He has been honored with the status of Cavaliere from the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy, and on March 10 the Consul General of Italy will bestow yet another honor upon him: the status of Commendatore.

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    We eventually settle at a side table and, amongst servings of charred octopus and roasted fish, the interview soon becomes a pleasant conversation about Italian-Americans, their position in American society and what the future holds for them.

    Salvatore, tell us about your life, your beginnings.

    I was born in Brooklyn, my mother is from Palermo and my father was born in Brooklyn as well, though his parents came from Gaeta [on the coast between Rome and Naples]. I grew up in Brooklyn: I went to a Catholic school there and to university [Bachelor at San Francis College, MBA at Long Island University].

    After college I went to work for Ernst & Young, and founded Salibello and Broder in 1978.

    While growing up, did you ever feel discriminated against because of your Italian-American heritage, either at school or at work?

    I would not use the word “discrimination,” but it happened that the kids of different ethnicities got the better assignments, that actually may be one of the reasons that prompted me to join NIAF.

    What are the other reasons?

    To preserve the Italian culture in the USA.

    I assume you feel very close to Italian culture.

    Yes, definitely. I think it is worth preserving and I want future generations to have the opportunity to appreciate it.

    What do you think the main differences and similarities between Italian culture and Italian-American culture are?

    There are many differences, but I like to focus on the similarities. I think that the main thing they have in common is that they both give great importance to family.

    What about the Italian language? How did you learn to speak Italian so well? Did your parents consciously teach it to you because they wanted you to know the language of your ancestors, or did it just happen?

    It wasn’t planned. This is how it happened: my parents had no money and neither did my grandparents, they were immigrants. We lived in a four-story brownstone. The first floor was my grandparents’, the second and third were occupied by tenants, and we lived on the top floor.

    My grandparents never really learned English, because the community I lived in, Carroll Street in downtown Brooklyn, was mostly made up of Italian immigrants, so it wasn’t really necessary to speak English. However, my mother and father wanted to work outside the Italian community because there was very little work there, so they had to learn English and come to New York to work. What happened is that I would walk to and from school, and when I went home for lunch my parents would be at work so my grandparents would make lunch for me, and they would speak Italian, and that’s how I learned the Sicilian dialect.

    And how did you learn proper Italian?

    In 1978 I left Ernst&Young, and around 1979 or 1980 I got a call from a friend of mine who asked me if I was still looking for clients and if I wanted to have an interview with the Benetton family. I did not know who they were, and there was no Google. So, I went to the interview and they were speaking only Italian, but I hadn’t spoken Italian in over 10 years, because once my grandparents died there was no more need to speak Italian and we all spoke English. The Benettons are from Veneto, and had a heavy Venetian accent. They thought I was from Mars, there was no way we could understand each other’s Italian! But they liked me and became my clients and since then I started to work with more and more Italian companies – such as Ferrero or Italcable - so I had to refine my Italian.

    I remember you were really satisfied with the reinstatement of the AP Italian Program. Why, in your opinion, should an American learn Italian?

    I think that if someone pursues the Italian language, they have to do it strictly from a cultural point of view. It’s not going be used commercially. You have to have a passion, feel the romance of what that country has to offer, otherwise it’s not appealing: you cannot use it for business.

    What about NIAF? How did you get close to this association?

    Back in 1989, one of the Presidents came to me and asked me to host a Gala in New York. Rudy Giuliani was our honoree that night. We spent a beautiful night at the Waldorf-Astoria, and Giuliani was presented with an award, which is how it got started. Then I began to go to Washington and got involved in the national organization. What I like about NIAF is that it is national, so I have friends and contacts throughout the USA.

    Is there any particular accomplishment involving NIAF that you would care to remember?

    I helped them with the financial part a lot, especially with the organization of all their financial assets and all their endowed funds; also, I helped with fundraising and scholarships.

    Let’s talk about the stereotypical image of the Italian-American. Have you seen any evolution of this stereotype over the years?

    I think it got a little better, but there are certain things that keep coming up all the time, and shows like Jersey Shore are not helping at all. It’s terrible that Italians are still portrayed that way. But on the other hand there are so many Italian-Americans that are achieving such high positions in American society; so we object to certain stereotypes, but we feel that at this point we are somehow above them, because they are not a true image of Italian-Americans anymore. The problem is that cultural icons such as The Godfather have instated the image of the stereotyped Italian-American long ago. Consequently, it is quite hard to overcome and easy to pick on because it is so unusual. In places like the mid-west, if you say you are Italian it’s quite easy to be asked if you are part of the Mafia. Also Berlusconi’s behavior is not helping; it actually is making things worse.

    How many generations do you think have to pass before the stereotype of the Italian-American will be, if not eradicated, at least very attenuated?

    The only way that will happen is if they find somebody else to pick on, and right now that cannot happen: it’s such a hot topic, it still sells. Even a commercial at the Superbowl used this stereotype. Hopefully it will happen less and less, the more educated and powerful Italian-Americans become in society.

    Do you think that Italian-Americans, especially wealthy Italian-Americans, are sufficiently supporting their heritage and culture or is there room for improvement?

    When it comes to charity Italian-Americans, by and large, are not that generous especially when compared to other communities like the Jewish one. However I have been noticing improvements over the years and it is becoming more common for Italian-Americans to give some of their wealth to charity in support of their heritage.

  • Life & People

    Arts & Tannery: the Gotha of Italian Tanneries Meets New York

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    Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but garments and shoes are definitely not an unwelcome acquaintance. It is well known how easily ladies can fall under the enchantment of the colorful world of fashion, but this spell isn’t woven overnight. Countless hours of research and development are spent looking for the next trend, the future color, the new stylish pattern.
     

    This gargantuan effort begins not in the studios of fashion designers, but well before; in the laboratories of the tanneries and the companies that make the fashion world’s raw materials: leathers and fabrics.

    When it comes to leather, Italy is the reference point of the market. Though there are other countries that are strong leather producers, the qualitative pinnacle in this field is definitely the Bel Paese. Tanneries can be found all over the Boot, but the main leather production district is in Tuscany, in the village of Santa Croce sull’Arno. From this area comes the core of Italian Leather System, a consortium that reunites the best Italian tanneries and companies revolving around the leather market, and the mind behind “Arts&Tannery”, the expo held at the Midtown Loft & Terrace, on 5th Ave. and 29 St., on February 22 and 23.

    Arts&Tannery can be defined a boutique expo. Avoiding huge crowds, dispersion, and often the risk of being copied that are present at bigger events, this show gathers roughly a dozen Italian companies and targets itself toward a very discerning clientele, offering them the possibility of viewing the new collections in an intimate atmosphere. Thanks to this formula, the buyers have more time to browse the products and to talk with the producers, thus increasing the overall efficiency of the expo.

    i-Italy went to the inauguration of the event, on the morning of February 22. Marco Alberti, Vice-Consul of Italy in New York, was present for the occasion, as was Aniello Musella, director of the Italian Trade Commission, who found time to chat with us. He pointed out how this kind of expo strengthens the relationship with existing buyers, while at the same time tickling the interest of new potential customers who do not usually come and visit expos in Europe. This expo formula may be applied to many consumer goods, however he underlined that in order for such an event to be effective, the organizers need, first of all, to be perseverant: the success of the initiative will not happen overnight and, especially, a huge PR work is fundamental. Secondarily, they have to provide a reason for the clients to come and visit this kind of show, something different than what is found at the bigger exposition; in this case the quality of the companies and products.

    Musella also stressed the technological level of the research in this field: it involves research on new machineries and new chemicals, and not simply “drawing” new styles.

    We also spent some time with the exhibitors. Even though the crisis did not hit this sector as hard as it did many others, it was definitely felt, especially during 2009. However, while walking through the stands, the general feeling we had was of mild optimism.

    We chatted with Lorenzo Cotrozzi, trend forecaster and speaker at the event presentation conference. Like Musella, he stressed the importance of research and development for this field, and underlined how complex this process is: before a new product - say a shoe - is presented to the buyers by fashion brands (and such presentation usually happens one year before the shoe lands in the stores), there are months of designing and research. Before the shoe designing process starts, there is the R&D process in the tanneries. And before that, there is R&D in the factories who produce the chemicals for the tanneries. Thus, companies have to be able to anticipate the demands of the fashion market years ahead of time.

    FYI, rumor has it that the upcoming colors will be green, orange and blue.

  • Art & Culture

    Francesca Da Rimini: Sensuality and Sin, Passion and Heroism

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    "Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse/quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante" (culprit was the book and who wrote it/that day we did not read more of it). With these words Francesca da Rimini takes leave from Dante and Virgilio at the end of the 5th Canto of the Inferno, the first part of the Dante's Comedy. The sensuality involved in these final lines (they did not read more because busy with other recreational activities…), especially when uttered by a girl, is groundbreaking, as groundbreaking and everlasting is Francesca’s portrayal by the Massimo Poeta.

    It is around this mythical figure that a conference revolved at NYU Casa Italiana. The panelists were Antonella Beltrami, Culture Commissioner of the City of Rimini; Maurizio Melucci, Tourism Commissioner of Emilia-Romagna Region; NYU’s Professor John Freccero; and one of the most important experts of Dante in the world, Ferruccio Farina. The panel was moderated by Columbia University’s Nadia Urbinati.
     
    Like many of the Divine Comedy’s characters, Francesca really existed. Daughter of a nobleman from Ravenna, she had to get married for political reasons to the deformed Gianciotto Malatesta. However, knowing that she would never agree to marry Gianciotto should she see him, their parents decided to have the handsome brother of Gianciotto, Paolo, come and attend the marriage as Gianciotto’s proxy. Francesca and Paolo fell in love and, when Gianciotto eventually found out about the affair, killed them both. Their souls are placed by Dante in the second circle of hell, where carnal sinners are punished.
     
    As Freccero pointed out, Francesca’s status of heroin is created by Dante himself, it is not a later construct. She is the only one who speaks with the poet and relates the facts with remarkable consciousness and awareness, while Paolo is just a silent weeping figure next to her. On this cornerstone many artists (in literature but in the figurative arts as well) built countless works, making Francesca one of the longest lasting and most written- and painted-about female literary figures ever.
     
    According to a census by Farina, more than 700 works of art revolve around Francesca’s character. There is however a strong evolution of her figure: Dante’s Francesca is physically unattractive, and resigned to her punishment. Over the centuries she is transformed both physically – she became a beautiful girl – and psychologically. The later Francesca is a herald of feminism and patriotism, a Romantic heroin who fights for Love against violence. Considering the themes involved in the metamorphosis, it should be no surprise that the first appearance of the new Francesca is in a Jacobin short poem, in 1795. Since then she began an “international tour” that brought her all around Europe, with plays, poems, paintings and engravings on the subject being produced all over the Old World. Silvio Pellico, Coupin de la Couperie, Ary Scheffer (who painted the best known representation of the two unlucky lovers), and Leigh Hunt are just some of those who revisited Paolo and Francesca’s story under a new light.

    Even D’Annunzio breached the subject, although he pushed the boundaries even further and created, through Francesca, with his theatrical piece, a legitimation of lust. This undertone, together with the controversial character of D’annunzio, was the reason that prevented the poet from joining Eleonora Duse when she performed Paolo and Francesca in the States.

  • Facts & Stories

    An Italian Icon Is About to Hit the States

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    Turin, 1957. This is where and when the history of one of the most iconic Italian products began: the Fiat 500. What can be described as one of the first city cars was born in response to the demand for an economic vehicle in the years after WWII. Over the time it has become an Italian design icon, a symbol of the Dolce Vita and of the Italian lifestyle that can be summarized with the adjectives “fashionable” and “practical”.

    Production of the old 500 was discontinued in 1975, and since then fans have been begging to see it reborn. Their hopes were fulfilled in 2007. After more than 30 years, Fiat gave the public an updated version of its timeless instant classic. The new 500 was created to be true to its origins while simultaneously upgraded with all the tech gizmos we are used to seeing in higher end vehicles. It is a compact, fuel efficient car that behaves equally well in cramped city streets and during a carefree ride through the countryside, stylish enough to have heads turning no matter where it is used.

    The new 500 was part of the rebirth of the Fiat brand. Burdened with disputable products and a worrying financial situation, FIAT went through a tough time during the 1990s, but the group from Turin is now well out of the woods – also thanks to the European success of the new 500 – so much that it acquired the bankrupted American giant Chrysler.

    Through the purchase of Chrysler, Fiat got access to a capillary American distribution network, and this allowed the Italian producer to bring its products back to the States, a market it has been absent from for decades. Of course when it came to choose which car to use to spearhead the USA, it was a pretty straightforward decision: as of 2011 the new 500 will be available to American buyers.

    The car will be available in three versions, all of them powered by a 1.4L 16v engine: the basic POP ($15'500), the more aggressive SPORT ($17'500), and the top of the line LOUNGE ($19'500). Initially it will be available only with manual gear shift. Those who cannot drive stick will have to wait for the automatic version, later this year, and hopefully, further on, the aggressive version modified by Abarth will hit the American roads as well.

    In Europe FIAT used a very unconventional marketing strategy, some examples are the FIAT 500 shaped, 1 mt long vases that appeared in the shopping Mecca of Via Montenapoleone in Milan; or the FIAT Playa beach club, in Sardinia, which opened in 2007 and quickly became one of the most fashionable clubs of the Emerald Coast.

    It would not be a surprise if, in order to captivate the American public, the marketing campaign in the States were equally creative to bring the potential buyer to a world of Italian design and lifestyle.

    The only certainties, as of now, are the fact that cars will be sold at Fiat Studios, which will sport contemporary art on the walls and espresso bars, and which will of course not be run by salesmen, but rather by Fiat Specialists.

    Considering that the American Fiat 500 fan club has already booked the entire first batch of 500s (which is made of sequentially numbered limited edition 500 units), it seems that the 500 is well on its way to success, also considering the results it had in other countries. In England, for example, 2011 is the third consecutive year the small Italian car wins the title “City Car of the Year” in the BusinessCar Awards.

    Probably Americans will not go to such extreme lengths as the Chinese millionaire who had his new 500 personalized with many perks (including gold flakes paint) pricing his city car at roughly $700'000, but it is safe to say that the States are about to fall in love with a new Italian icon.

  • Canaletto The Bacino Of San Marco
    Art & Culture

    Canaletto and His Rivals. The Venetian Masters on Show in Washington

    On March 17, 1861, Italy was finally unified after many years of struggles. The [email protected] initiative encompasses a series of events organized to celebrate this 150th anniversary. The exhibition “Venice: Canaletto and his rivals,” on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington from February 20 to May 30, 2011, under the high patronage of the President of the Italian Republic, is among the first of these events. Curated by Canaletto expert Charles Beddington and coordinated by David Alan Brown, it will give the American public the occasion of admiring the most important names of the Venetian "Vedutismo".

    This artistic current reached its peak during the 18th century and is characterized by the portrayal of grand-scale, detailed landscape views of cities. Due to its charm and the amount of travelers visiting the city over the Grand Tour (the traditional trip around Europe that most of the young English upper-middle class used to embark on), a large number of vedute painters was active in Venice. It is not a coincidence that many Canalettos reside now in English galleries. The Maestro himself lived in England for nearly ten years, yielding the famous London vedute.

    Though he is the most renowned representative of vedutismo, Canaletto is just the tip of the iceberg. The peculiarity of the show is the fact that it gathers together many names of this current. Juxtaposed to thirty Canalettos, there will be fifty works by other vedutisti such as Canalatto’s alleged teacher Carlevarijs, Canaletto’s pupil and nephew BellottoGuardi, a contender to Canaletto’s reign over vedutismo, and many others.
    This show is a truly unique opportunity to compare the different hands and the evolution of Vedutismo over the years, especially for the American public.

    An interesting aspect of the work of the Vedutisti is that they were  among the first painters to use scientific instruments for their art: in order to render with such a high degree of realism the views of the city, it is thought that they made use of the camera obscura, an optical device that allowed the painter to project and trace the landscape on their canvases. Two of such devices will be featured at the exhibit, alongside another example of fusion of art and science: a massive printed map of Venice, one of the first accurate topographical representation of the city, created by Ludovico Ughi using groundbreaking measuring tools and mathematics.

    Furthermore, to virtually transport the visitors to Venice, the exhibition will feature one of the world’s oldest gondolas, a 35-foot-long craft which belonged to the American painter Thomas Moran.

    The Vedute may be considered one of the earliest examples of the growing trend of appreciating Italian products abroad, and as such an exhibition about them in the United States to celebrate the Unification of the Country is the most appropriate way to begin what Italians around the world should regard as a true Italian Year.

     


    Venice: Canaletto and his rivals has been made possible thanks to the generous contribution and support of:

    The Bracco Foundation
    The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation
    Sally Engelhard Pingree
    The Charles Engelhard Foundation

  • Vino 2011. 500 000 Enthusiasts for Virtual Vino

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    One of the most appreciated Italian products is definitely wine.

    The incredible variety of producers, vineyards and denominations allows the Italian enological production to be able to satisfy even the most discerning wine lover.

    The goal of “Vino 2011 – Italian Wine Week”, the biggest symposium about Italian wine in the US, is not only to bring together buyers and producers, but also to offer a series of conferences about the evolution of the enological world and business.

    From January 23 to January 27, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the Italian wine industry will showcase the best it has to offer at a variety of tasting sessions, conferences, symposiums and lunches.

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    Like last year, the exhibition will be present online as well, thanks to the initiative “Virtual Vino 2011”. Virtual Vino uses social media to push the boundaries of the event beyond the city of New York, making it a truly global experience. In order to make this online presence even more engrossing, the symposiums have been webcasted live and the recordings will remain available online to the community.

    Last year, Virtual Vino was able to reach nearly 500 000 enthusiasts. Considered how important the web is for the lives of the Americans, it is likely that last year's results have been repeated, and maybe exceeded.

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    The growing attention to the use of social networks to promote the wine industry was also the topic of one of the conferences of Vino 2011 entitled “What Emily Post Can Teach About Social Media, Millennial App-titude and Geo-Marketing”. I-Italy was there.

    The moderator was Tom Wark, head of Wark communications  @font-face {
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    The discussion began with the definition of the target audience of online marketing: the Millennials. This is the curious denomination reserved to the generation of those born between 1977 and 1990. Defining trait of the Millennials is in tune with their futuristic name: according to Wark they are those who will be the heaviest social network users ever, more than any past or future generation.

    Other characteristics make them the ideal target for the enological industry: they often go to bars, buy wine and know about it with much more depth than the past generations, and they are sensible to both the elements of the price/quality ratio.

    Proof of the attention reserved to wine by social network users is that more than a Million Americans list wine among their interests on Facebook.

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    After this introduction, the panelists focused on how to obtain the attention of this web audience so that from Facebook, Twitter etc. they move to one’s company website. The key word is “authenticity”. Online news spread around nearly instantaneously. Because of this, it is necessary to be honest and authentic when promoting one’s product. If the consumers should notice a difference between the product’s actual qualities and the advertised qualities, this information would become widespread on the social network in a matter of days or even hours. This “boomerang effect” is after all a great guarantee for the consumers: the producers should think better than giving misleading information about their products.

    The world of social networking is a true goldmine of contacts and potential clients, and the panelists were generous of tips on how to obtain the most out of this sometimes too huge universe.

    Jeff Lefevere and Kent Wilhelm shared a similar advice, though differently declined: you need to captivate your audience’s attention. Whether you do so thanks to a simple, colloquial language, as Kent suggested, or through an entertaining and stimulating use of the social platform, Jeff’s advice, the bottom line is that you need to find a way to stand out among the ocean of products present online.

    An example of how to get to such a result was given while answering to a member of the audience, who underlined how time consuming social media advertising can be – a true problem for a wine producer, who is always busy either at the office or in the vineyard. The panel suggested, as an example, to simply take a picture of one’s hands every day after work, and post it online with a brief description of what was done that day. A simple and effective way to pass on a message of tradition and passion for one’s work and, by extent, for one’s product.

    Amy Cao insisted on the necessity of quality, not quantity, when advertising on social networks. It is useless to be briefly present on Twitter, Youtube, Facebook and all the other networks. The producer needs to choose one and only one platform and stick to it, developing an articulated, in depth presence on it. As a suggestion, Facebook should be ideal for an already well-known company trying to expand its reach to a different audience; Twitter is better suited instead for a company whose brand isn’t likely to have already been heard by the target audience.

    Independently from the chosen platform and marketing strategy, both Talia Baiocchi and Lefevre gave a warning: in order to obtain results through social network marketing, one has to stick to one’s plan and, especially, has to be very, very patient. Results will come, but they will take their time.

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